Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The White House Goes Viral, Con't

President Biden has signed bipartisan legislation directing DNI Avril Haines to declassify "as much intelligence as possible" on the origins of COVID-19.

President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill Monday that directs the federal government to declassify as much intelligence as possible about the origins of Covid-19 more than three years after the start of the pandemic.

The legislation, which passed both the House and Senate without dissent, directs the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify intelligence related to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. It cites “potential links” between the research that was done there and the outbreak of Covid-19, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. The law allows for redactions to protect sensitive sources and methods.

U.S. intelligence agencies are divided over whether a lab leak or a spillover from animals is the likely source of the deadly virus. Experts say the true origin of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1.1 million in the U.S. and millions more around the globe, may not be known for many years — if ever.

So what does this mean? Both everything and nothing

The declassified information must be released within 90 days of the bill being signed into law, although the language in the bill does not establish a mechanism for enforcement. Among other details, the information would include the names, symptoms and roles of any researchers who fell ill at the Wuhan institute in fall 2019, according to the text of the bill.

The theory that the coronavirus, which causes covid-19, may have escaped from the Wuhan institute has been a subject of debate since early in the pandemic.

Biden noted that he had directed the intelligence community in 2021, shortly after he took office, to “use every tool at its disposal” to investigate the origin of the coronavirus and that the work is ongoing.

In a rare show of bipartisanship this month, the House voted 419-0 in favor of the bill, which had already passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

“This is strong on symbolic value,” Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said then, adding that the measure does allow Biden “wide discretion” to withhold information to protect sources and keep methods secret.

The information Americans would see would not be the raw transcripts of intercepted phone calls, Himes said, but rather the finished intelligence reports.

“There are clearly thousands of pages of raw intelligence,” Himes said, but as far as the actual information that would be declassified, “I think we’re probably talking hundreds of pages.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) told Fox News last week that he hoped the rare show of overwhelming bipartisanship would convince Biden to sign the bill into law.

“We’ve seen the intelligence,” Turner said. “The American public deserves to. There’s more information the government knows, and the American public and certainly the world needs to know.”

So we'll see what the White House and DNI Haines believe we should see, and basically all of Congress understands this, so don't expect any smoking guns.

Fox and friends will treat anything as such, but yeah, we'll see. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Last Call For The Late, Great, Planet Earth, Con't

The latest UN report on climate change gives us a decade at most  to stave off catastrophic global warming that will kill millions, and doing so will require massive changes to current human standards of living, or we will reach a positive feedback loop that will eventually fry most life on this rock.

Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a major new report released on Monday.

The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, offers the most comprehensive understanding to date of ways in which the planet is changing. It says that global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels sometime around “the first half of the 2030s,” as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas.

That number holds a special significance in global climate politics: Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, virtually every nation agreed to “pursue efforts” to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that point, scientists say, the impacts of catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures and species extinction become significantly harder for humanity to handle.

But Earth has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial age, and, with global fossil-fuel emissions setting records last year, that goal is quickly slipping out of reach.

There is still one last chance to shift course, the new report says. But it would require industrialized nations to join together immediately to slash greenhouse gases roughly in half by 2030 and then stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by the early 2050s. If those two steps were taken, the world would have about a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Delays of even a few years would most likely make that goal unattainable, guaranteeing a hotter, more perilous future.

“The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change,” said Hoesung Lee, the chair of the climate panel. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”

The report comes as the world’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States, continue to approve new fossil fuel projects. Last year, China issued permits for 168 coal-fired power plants of various sizes, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Finland. Last week, the Biden administration approved an enormous oil drilling project known as Willow that will take place on pristine federal land in Alaska.
So no, there doesn't seem to be any chance that countries will act in the next decade, and future generations will curse their ancestors who did nothing.
Those that survive, that is. 

Increasingly, we're headed for author William Gibson's "Jackpot Theory", where the odds of compounding climate change, resource shortages, nuclear war, viral pandemics and biological collapse means simply surviving the future will feel like "hitting the jackpot".

Maybe those who do survive will be able to turn the human race around, but there's no reason at all to believe the next several decades will be anything other than abject misery for the vast majority of us.

At the very least, Gen Z and whoever comes after will have every reason to despise those who came before them. I don't want to be right about this, but I don't think I'm wrong.

The Circus Of The Damned, Con't

House "Speaker" Kevin McCarthy and the GOP Circus of the Damned are sending the flying monkeys after Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, planning to subpoena him and force him under oath to answer questions about his active investigation (and possible indictment) of Donald Trump. Team WIN THE MORNING:
This morning, we can report two things:

1. In the short term, Republicans are discussing firing off letters summoning employees of the Manhattan DA’s office for sworn testimony, according to a GOP official familiar with the plans. The potential request comes amid speculation about why the hush-money case was suddenly resurrected after being back-burnered by both state and federal prosecutors.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans are not final, noted that McCarthy, a longtime Trump ally and close friend, is “fully supportive and pushing folks to be aggressive here.”

2. Manhattan DA ALVIN BRAGG himself is in the GOP’s crosshairs, though it’s not clear if he’ll be immediately summoned. “He should come testify before Congress,” Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) told us and other reporters, launching into a lengthy tirade about “fake charges” meant to be “used in Democrat ads” against Trump.

Greene’s not alone: “This is a [GEORGE] SOROS-backed, crazy, left-wing prosecutor … and he is doing this purely political sham,” Jordan told Playbook. (Note that Bragg told his employees over the weekend that he would “not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”)

Jordan didn’t answer questions about whether he’d subpoena Bragg. Even if he does, it’s almost impossible to imagine Bragg or his subordinates answering questions about an ongoing probe or prosecution. While Republicans could threaten to hold him in contempt of Congress, the Justice Department would be unlikely to press charges in a partisan dispute.

Regardless, Trump’s future will continue to be a major discussion point as House Republicans huddle today on the biggest policy issues facing the country. As GOP lawmakers prepped for sessions on border security, the ongoing banking scare, public safety and the looming debt ceiling deadline, Trump kept venting on Truth Social, calling on Bragg to “BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE CRIME OF ‘INTERFERENCE IN A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.’”

In a way, it’s a back-to-the-future moment for Republicans who spent years dodging questions about the Trump controversy du jour — and could well be doing so for months or years to come. And yet for many of them, it’s still a bummer. “Yet again, his ego gets in the way and he feels the need to suck the oxygen out of the room,” one senior House GOP aide vented.
Bragg's message to his office yesterday that he "would not tolerate" intimidation attempts just got its first major test.  The clown car will demand Bragg stop his case and deal with weeks, maybe months of House subpoena bullshit, even if it's sitting in front of Jim Jordan's committee on national TV and saying "I cannot comment on an ongoing criminal investigation" 371 times. 
It does represent however massive, massive interference in Bragg's case, with the plan being running out the clock (and making Bragg and his office targets of MAGA stochastic terrorism). The GOP will do anything and everything they can to protect Trump.

Personally, I hope Bragg absolutely indicts Trump and perp-walks him at 3:30 AM tomorrow, but that's probably why I'm not Manhattan DA.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

Everyone seems convinced that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg will indict Trump this week, and Tuesday, specifically, to hear Trump cream it in all caps on social media. Regardless of the timing however, Bragg's grand jury investigation is still active and continuing, with more testimony scheduled for today.
A Manhattan grand jury that is expected to vote soon on whether to indict Donald J. Trump may hear testimony Monday attacking the prosecution’s star witness, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The testimony would come from a lawyer, Robert J. Costello, who would appear at the request of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, the people said. Mr. Costello was once a legal adviser to Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer, who has been a key witness for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Mr. Costello and Mr. Cohen had a falling out, and Mr. Costello would appear solely to undermine Mr. Cohen’s credibility, the people said.

Under New York law, a person who is expected to be indicted can request that a witness appear on his or her behalf. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have asked that Mr. Costello testify, but the final decision rests with the grand jury; it is unclear whether they have made a decision. The grand jury has been hearing evidence about the former president’s involvement in a hush money payment to a porn star.

Mr. Costello’s appearance would come soon after Mr. Cohen concluded his own grand jury testimony. If Mr. Costello testifies, there is also a chance that Mr. Cohen will be asked to return to rebut some of Mr. Costello’s assertions.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office declined to comment, as did Mr. Costello. A lawyer for Mr. Cohen, Lanny J. Davis, declined to comment.

The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, a Democrat, is expected to seek an indictment of Mr. Trump as soon as this week. There have been several signals that charges may be imminent: The prosecutors gave Mr. Trump an opportunity to testify, a right given to people who will soon face indictment. They have now questioned nearly every major player in the hush money saga in front of the grand jury.

Mr. Cohen made the $130,000 hush money payment to the porn star, Stormy Daniels, to bury her story of an affair with Mr. Trump.
Seems odd that testimony is still continuing if Bragg is going to supposedly arrest Trump tomorrow, but then again it's entirely possible that Donald Trump is lying his ass off and is trying to sabotage Bragg's case in the court of public opinion, just a hunch. 

It's almost like Trump is saying one thing, and then is doing another, in this case responding to Michael Cohen's grand jury testimony with testimony from Costello, prolonging the grand jury proceedings and then leaking as much as he can get away with to the press in order to muck up the case.
Weird how he always seems to do that in general.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Last Call For A Supreme Crackdown, Con't

The conservative legal eagles of tomorrow came from all over for the Federalist Society's yearly symposium in Texas this month, but they have one thing in common: the desire to end American democracy and replace it with fascist, theocratic white supremacist rule as Politico Magazine's Ian Ward reports.

To those who have followed the Federalist Society closely since its triumphs at the Supreme Court last year, the symposium’s focus on law and democracy may hardly seem incidental. Since its founding in 1982, the Federalist Society has championed “judicial restraint,” the notion that judges should limit their roles to interpreting the law as written, leaving the actual business of lawmaking to democratically elected legislatures. 

That approach made sense for conservatives when they still saw the federal judiciary as a liberal force dragging the country to the left. But now that conservatives have secured a solid majority on the Supreme Court — and voters in several red states have soundlyrejected hard-line positions on abortiona spirited debate is underway within the Federalist Society about the wisdom of deferring to democratic majorities as a matter of principle.

“From our very beginning, there has been an aspect of judicial restraint, and there has been an aspect that it’s judges’ jobs to interpret the Constitution, that whatever it says, that’s what they should do — and those two can sometimes be in tension,” said Eugene Meyer, the president and CEO of the Federalist Society, as we spoke in a back hallway of the conference center. 

I had only convinced Meyer to talk with me after assuring him and his handler that I wasn’t trying to back him into answering specific questions about cases currently before the Court. At Meyer’s urging, the society goes to great lengths to emphasize that it does not take policy positions or weigh in on the merit of individual cases, preferring to present itself as a neutral “debate society” for right-leaning intellectuals. But Meyer — who tapped his foot nervously as we spoke — was willing to admit that the intellectual winds within the organization are shifting.

“I think it would be fair to say there’s been some movement over time more in the direction of interpreting the Constitution and less in the direction of pure judicial restraint,” he told me.

When I spoke with Blackman, the South Texas college of law professor, he noted that that tension was neatly captured in two of the headline-making decisions that went conservatives’ way in the last Supreme Court term. In the Dobbs ruling, the conservative majority returned the abortion question to state legislatures, limiting federal judges’ role in determining the extent of reproductive rights. Meanwhile, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen —  which struck down a New York law that set the requirements for individuals to receive a concealed carry permit for handguns — the Court trumped the decision of a state legislature in favor of conservatives’ preferred reading of the Second Amendment. 

But Blackman’s assessment of the direction of the intellectual current within the Federalist Society was even more candid than Meyer’s.

“The norm that judges be restrained and moderate — that ship has sailed,” he said. 

Inside the cavernous ballroom, panelists took turns delivering their remarks from a raised platform, flanked on one side by the American flag and by Texas’s Lone Star Flag on the other. The symposium is hosted by a different law school every year, but there was a tidy irony to the fact that this year’s gathering landed in Texas, which has in recent years seen an influx of conservative transplants seeking refuge from what they see as the insanity and insipient authoritarianism of Blue America.

“Democracy is what philosophers call an ‘essentially contested concept,’” said Daniel Lowenstein, a professor of law emeritus at UCLA and an expert in election law, during a panel on Friday evening. “Differences that seem on their surface to concern the meaning of the word ‘democracy’,” he added, are actually struggles to advance particular and controversial political ideas.”

What democracy does not mean, Lowenstein argued, was “plebiscitary democracy,” or simple rule by democratic majorities. Citing the Federalist Papers — the namesake of the Federalist Society — Lowenstein suggested that governance based on simple mathematical majorities would enable “tyrannical domination of the minority by the majority.” 

“The assumption that only plebiscitary forms [of government] are truly democratic is fallacious, and should be openly and directly contested by those supporting non-plebiscitary positions,” he added. 

Behind me, somebody whispered, “We’re a republic, not a democracy” — a tongue-in-cheek slogan that some conservatives have adopted as a way to slyly signal their approval of minority rule.

Later on in the same panel, Joel Alicea, a law professor at the Catholic University of America, diagnosed the apparent threats facing American democracy today — political violence, abuses of governmental power, and attempted election subversion, to name a few — as symptoms of a deeper malaise. 

“At this point in our society, we can’t even agree whether somebody is a man or a woman, which suggests such a deep level of moral disagreement — and even disagreement about basic notions of reality — that to say that society can form an overlapping consensus is hopelessly naive,” he said. Faced with such fundamental disagreements, Alicea said that citizens have to choose between two approaches: coercion, suppressing disagreements by means of force and intimidation, or conversion, the slow and steady work of persuading people who disagree with you to come around to your point of view. 
The people can't rule themselves, but must be ruled by a moral virtuous bureaucratic elite. Congrats, guys, you've discovered the Mandate of Heaven, I'm sure the Chinese would agree with you.


The Revenge Of 2008, Con't

The big 4 banks (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Citibank and Wells Fargo) are too big to fail, we made that clear 15 years ago. Small local banks already have their deposits covered by FDIC insurance because very few depositors have accounts worth more than $250,000. That leaves mid-sized regional banks in the middle, and now they want TBTF status as well.
A coalition of midsize US banks asked federal regulators to extend FDIC insurance to all deposits for the next two years, arguing the guarantee is needed to avoid a wider run on the banks.

“Doing so will immediately halt the exodus of deposits from smaller banks, stabilize the banking sector and greatly reduce chances of more bank failures,” the Mid-Size Bank Coalition of America said in a letter to regulators seen by Bloomberg News.

The collapse this month of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank prompted a flood of deposits out of regional lenders and into the nation’s largest banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. Customers spooked by the bank failures were taking refuge in firms seen as too big to fail.

“Notwithstanding the overall health and safety of the banking industry, confidence has been eroded in all but the largest banks,” the group said in the letter. “Confidence in our banking system as a whole must be immediately restored,” it said, adding that the deposit flight would accelerate should another bank fail.

The expanded insurance program should be paid for by the banks themselves by increasing the deposit-insurance assessment on lenders that choose to participate in increased coverage, the group proposed.

The MBCA’s letter was sent to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Not only do I believe Yellen will do this, I also believe that nobody should be surprised when every single bank turns around and start charging massive new fees for depositors in order to pay for the higher FDIC premiums.  And since everyone will be doing it, the Biden administration can't single out a target. So, they'll look the other way while overdraft fees double, and new account fees skyrocket, and banks will end up making a profit and have FDIC coverage so that they can do whatever they want to with investment risk...because there won't be any risk for the banks.  It's all covered.
All covered by you and me.
The Big Casino is back, baby!

Sunday Long Read: Black Lives Still Matter

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Meg O'Connor at The Appeal, with the story of Jacob Harris, a Black teenager killed by Phoenix police. But Harris's friends have been charged in his murder, and Harris's father Roland has lost nearly everything trying to get to the bottom of his son's death.

Roland Harris has watched his son die a hundred times. The final moments of his life, documented in thermal video captured by a police aircraft, are burned into Harris’s mind: His teenage son, Jacob, steps out of a car. He runs from the police. Two seconds later, officers open fire. Bullets pierce his heart, lungs, and intestines. He falls to the ground, bleeding. Police pepper him with rubber bullets, hitting him in the face and backside. He is dying in the dirt. Then officers sic a dog on him.

It has been more than four years since a Phoenix police officer killed Jacob Harris, on January 11, 2019. The police department has since drawn a federal investigation into its use of deadly force. But Roland Harris’s fight for accountability has only left him with more questions: Why did police delete text messages from the night of his son’s shooting? Why are Jacob’s friends the only ones who have been held responsible for his death? How could anyone say his son’s killing was justified?

Harris’s search for answers has come at a significant cost: The cop who killed his son has demanded he pay the officer’s $40,000 attorney fees after a federal court dismissed Harris’s wrongful death suit. Harris and his wife split, in part, he says, because he became so deeply consumed by getting justice for his son.

“I have a void in my life that is never going to be filled,” Harris said. “Even when justice is served. It’s going to hit even harder. Because then I’ll have to focus on him not being here.”

Police have fought Harris every step of the way, refusing to disclose even basic information about his son’s death. It took six months for the department to release its report on the shooting, and even then, it only did so after he threatened to sue, Harris said. Police still have not returned his son’s belongings. But Roland Harris’s memories of Jacob remain fresh.

“He was all about family,” Harris said. “He helped me watch over his little sister, Leilani. He helped me coach little league basketball.”

Jacob had wavy black hair and a big, bright smile, accentuated by the peach fuzz that had grown in above his lip and on his chin. He was on the shorter side—5 feet 4—and he had his dad’s broad shoulders and stocky build. He also had Roland Harris’s brown, almond-shaped eyes.

Harris said that when Jacob found out he was going to be a father at 16 years old, he got a full-time job, finished school, and helped to support his girlfriend and child.

Before long, Jacob and his girlfriend had another child. “Now his daughter will never know him,” Harris said. “His son will never know him. They will grow older. Those memories will fade. And they’re gonna forget him. All because of a trigger happy cop. His kids are never gonna get any father-daughter dances. He’s never gonna get a chance to walk his daughter down the aisle.”

Over the last few years, Harris has slowly uncovered more information about his son’s killing and the events that preceded it. But every answer brings new questions.

In an effort to piece together what happened on the night of Jacob Harris’s death, The Appeal reviewed more than 6,000 pages of records from official investigations into the shooting, the county attorney’s prosecution of Harris’s friends, and the civil suit Roland Harris filed against the city of Phoenix. The Appeal interviewed nine people involved with the case and also obtained police personnel records, transcripts of police radio traffic, and aerial surveillance footage of the shooting.

Prior to publication, The Appeal sent the Phoenix Police Department a detailed list of statements that would appear in this story. A spokesperson for the department did not answer any questions and offered only a brief response stating that the court had dismissed Harris’s suit.

“The case is now on appeal to the 9th Circuit court where you can find the court file,” the spokesperson wrote.
But Phoenix Police and Maricopa County prosecutors ruined even more lives in order to protect the officer who killed Jacob Harris.

Law enforcement officials in Phoenix—including Kristopher Bertz, the officer who killed Jacob Harris—have justified the shooting by saying they feared Harris intended to shoot them. But records obtained by The Appeal show that multiple officials have made inconsistent or false statements about the circumstances surrounding the shooting. Even Bertz’s own accounts of that night have differed slightly. Aerial surveillance footage of the incident shows Harris running away. And a judge in the criminal case against Harris’s friends has stated unequivocally that Harris did not turn toward Bertz.

Police records also raise serious questions about the department’s conduct prior to the shooting. Officers had been surveilling Harris and his friends for over 12 hours at the time, believing them to be connected to a string of store robberies. Though police had many opportunities to stop the group throughout the day, they ultimately chose to sit by and watch a robbery occur. Police didn’t seek to apprehend Harris and his friends until after they drove away. But police never alerted the group to their presence or gave them a chance to pull over. Instead, officers escalated directly to a high-risk maneuver that forced the car to a stop. That’s when Harris ran out and was shot.

Despite these issues, the Phoenix Police Department investigated Bertz and determined that he acted in accordance with department policy in killing Harris. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, stating that Bertz did not “commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution.”

Instead, prosecutors decided to hold Harris’s three friends responsible for his death. Arizona’s “felony murder” law allows people to be charged with murder if someone dies during the commission of a felony, even if they did not cause the death. Jeremiah Triplett, Sariah Busani, and Johnny Reed—ages 20, 19, and 14 at the time—were in the car with Harris on the night of his death. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charged them with first-degree murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and burglary.

Busani and Triplett were held in jail on a $1 million bond for three years before finally being sentenced in the first few months of 2022. Busani was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Triplett was sentenced to 30 years. Reed was held on a $500,000 bond and was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison—more years than he had even been alive at the time of his arrest
A cop killed Jacob Harris. His friends were charged and convicted in his murder.
But Black Lives Still Matter.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Last Call For The Original October Surprise

With former President Jimmy Carter receiving palliative care at home at age 98, a long-time GOP political operator has come forward to confirm that Reagan's campaign sabotaged Carter's Iran hostage rescue efforts on purpose to win the 1980 election.
It has been more than four decades, but Ben Barnes said he remembers it vividly. His longtime political mentor invited him on a mission to the Middle East. What Mr. Barnes said he did not realize until later was the real purpose of the mission: to sabotage the re-election campaign of the president of the United States.

It was 1980 and Jimmy Carter was in the White House, bedeviled by a hostage crisis in Iran that had paralyzed his presidency and hampered his effort to win a second term. Mr. Carter’s best chance for victory was to free the 52 Americans held captive before Election Day. That was something that Mr. Barnes said his mentor was determined to prevent.

His mentor was John B. Connally Jr., a titan of American politics and former Texas governor who had served three presidents and just lost his own bid for the White House. A former Democrat, Mr. Connally had sought the Republican nomination in 1980 only to be swamped by former Gov. Ronald Reagan of California. Now Mr. Connally resolved to help Mr. Reagan beat Mr. Carter and in the process, Mr. Barnes said, make his own case for becoming secretary of state or defense in a new administration.

What happened next Mr. Barnes has largely kept secret for nearly 43 years. Mr. Connally, he said, took him to one Middle Eastern capital after another that summer, meeting with a host of regional leaders to deliver a blunt message to be passed to Iran: Don’t release the hostages before the election. Mr. Reagan will win and give you a better deal.

Then shortly after returning home, Mr. Barnes said, Mr. Connally reported to William J. Casey, the chairman of Mr. Reagan’s campaign and later director of the Central Intelligence Agency, briefing him about the trip in an airport lounge.

Mr. Carter’s camp has long suspected that Mr. Casey or someone else in Mr. Reagan’s orbit sought to secretly torpedo efforts to liberate the hostages before the election, and books have been written on what came to be called the October surprise. But congressional investigations debunked previous theories of what happened.

Mr. Connally did not figure in those investigations. His involvement, as described by Mr. Barnes, adds a new understanding to what may have happened in that hard-fought, pivotal election year. With Mr. Carter now 98 and in hospice care, Mr. Barnes said he felt compelled to come forward to correct the record.

“History needs to know that this happened,” Mr. Barnes, who turns 85 next month, said in one of several interviews, his first with a news organization about the episode. “I think it’s so significant and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter put it on my mind more and more and more. I just feel like we’ve got to get it down some way.”

Mr. Barnes is no shady foreign arms dealer with questionable credibility, like some of the characters who fueled previous iterations of the October surprise theory. He was once one of the most prominent figures in Texas, the youngest speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and later lieutenant governor. He was such an influential figure that he helped a young George W. Bush get into the Texas Air National Guard rather than be exposed to the draft and sent to Vietnam. Lyndon B. Johnson predicted that Mr. Barnes would become president someday.

Confirming Mr. Barnes’s account is problematic after so much time. Mr. Connally, Mr. Casey and other central figures have long since died and Mr. Barnes has no diaries or memos to corroborate his account. But he has no obvious reason to make up the story and indeed expressed trepidation at going public because of the reaction of fellow Democrats.

Mr. Barnes identified four living people he said he had confided in over the years: Mark K. Updegrove, president of the L.B.J. Foundation; Tom Johnson, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson (no relation) who later became publisher of the Los Angeles Times and president of CNN; Larry Temple, a former aide to Mr. Connally and Lyndon Johnson; and H.W. Brands, a University of Texas historian.

All four of them confirmed in recent days that Mr. Barnes shared the story with them years ago. “As far as I know, Ben never has lied to me,” Tom Johnson said, a sentiment the others echoed. Mr. Brands included three paragraphs about Mr. Barnes’s recollections in a 2015 biography of Mr. Reagan, but the account generated little public notice at the time.
Records at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum confirm part of Mr. Barnes’s story. An itinerary found this past week in Mr. Connally’s files indicated that he did, in fact, leave Houston on July 18, 1980, for a trip that would take him to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel before returning to Houston on Aug. 11. Mr. Barnes was listed as accompanying him.
Holy shit.
The original, old-school October Surprise really was a Reagan dirty trick designed to sabotage a sitting president's re-election campaign and it worked, and they basically got away with it for my entire lifetime, and the only reason we know what we know now is that Jimmy Carter is facing his final days and the guilt was too much for one of the assholes to bear.
We all knew it was, the Iranians released the hostages literally minutes after Reagan was sworn in on January 20, 1981.

And yet when I told Zandardad about this, a man who was proud to vote for Carter then and met him in person years later, he said little would come of this, and that he'd still prefer Reagan to the current GOP.

God help me, he's not wrong.

The Road To Gilead Goes Through The Mountain West

Wyoming has become the first state to ban abortion medication, even though the state doesn't have a ban on abortion itself.
Wyoming on Friday became the first state to ban the use of pills for abortion, adding momentum to a growing push by conservative states and anti-abortion groups to target medication abortion, the method now used in a majority of pregnancy terminations in the United States.

Wyoming’s new law comes as a preliminary ruling is expected soon by a Texas judge that could order the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its approval of mifepristone, the first pill in the two-drug medication abortion regimen. Such a ruling, if it stands, could upend how abortion is provided nationally, affecting states where abortion is legal as well as states with bans and restrictions.

Legislation to ban or add restrictions on medication abortion has been introduced in several states this year, including a bill in Texas that would not only ban abortion pills but also require internet service providers to take steps to block medication abortion websites so people in Texas could not view them.

In these states, proposals to block or restrict abortion pills have typically been introduced along with other anti-abortion measures, a reflection of the range of obstacles to abortion these states have tried to erect since the Supreme Court overturned the national right to abortion last June.

Medication abortion is already outlawed in states that have total bans, since those bans already prohibit all forms of abortion. But Wyoming became the first state to outlaw the use of pills for abortion separate from a total ban.

Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming, a Republican, signed that state’s abortion pill ban on the same day that he said he would allow another more sweeping measure banning abortion to become law without his signature. That law, which takes effect on Sunday, would ban abortion under almost all circumstances, making it a felony to provide an abortion.

“I have acted without bias and after extensive prayer, to allow these bills to become law,” Mr. Gordon wrote in a letter to Wyoming’s secretary of state released on Friday evening.
Also this week, Utah GOP Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law closing the state's abortion clinics, even though again, the state doesn't have a ban on abortion itself.
Abortion clinics in Utah could be banned from operating under a law signed by the state’s Republican governor, setting off a rush of confusion among clinics, hospitals and prospective patients in the deeply conservative state.

Administrators from hospitals and clinics have not publicly detailed plans to adapt to the new rules, adding a layer of uncertainty on top of fear that, if clinics close, patients may not be able to access care at hospitals due to staffing and cost concerns.

The law signed by Gov. Spencer Cox on Wednesday takes effect May 3, at which time abortion clinics will not be able to apply to be licensed. It institutes a full ban Jan. 1, 2024. Both the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the Utah Hospital Association declined to detail how the increasingly fraught legal landscape for providers in Utah will affect abortion access.

In addition to banning abortion clinics from operating, the law also clarifies the definition of abortion to address liability concerns about how exceptions are worded in state law — a provision Cox called a compromise.

On Thursday, the governor rebuffed critics who’ve equated restricting clinics to a de facto ban on abortion and said the law offered clarity to hospitals providing emergency abortions in the case of threats to maternal health and rape or incest reported to authorities.

“This bill clarifies that so that those abortions can continue. They will continue in a hospital setting, but there’s nothing to prevent those from continuing,” he said at a news conference.
The difference between Republicans in states like Texas and Kentucky and Republicans in states like Utah and Wyoming is the whole semantics issue of cruelty to the groups they want to subjugate. "We're not banning abortion, we're not like Southern Republicans," they say. "If you want an abortion badly enough ladies, cowgirl up and you'll go get one."
Couched in the language of "choice" and "strength" you see, rugged women of the Rockies and all that. And maybe if you're a *real* woman, you'll bring the fetus into the world. Anyway, we're actually making the choice much tougher because we're assholes, but at least we're not psychotic like the Southern GOP.
Guess you should consider yourselves lucky that the cruelty isn't quite as awful.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

It's good to see that law enforcement is treating security at the Manhattan Criminal Court seriously in case Alvin Bragg brings charges, my concern of course is how many of those various officers will be reporting to Trump.
Local, state and federal law enforcement and security agencies are preparing for the possibility that former President Donald Trump will be indicted as early as next week, according to five senior officials familiar with the preparations.

Law enforcement agencies are conducting preliminary security assessments, the officials said, and are discussing potential security plans in and around the Manhattan Criminal Court, at 100 Centre Street, in case Trump is charged in connection with an alleged hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and travels to New York to face any charges.

The officials stress that the interagency conversations and planning are precautionary in nature because no charges have been filed.

The agencies involved include the NYPD, New York State Court Officers, the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the officials said.

NBC News has reached out to all of those agencies for comment, and all have declined to comment.
I'll still believe in indictments when I see them unsealed and Trump perp-walked to a booking desk. Until then, this is all fabulous nonsense.
And even if Trump somehow does get charged and the affair goes to trial without half the country declaring war on Manhattan, I don't believe for a moment that Trump won't be able to get to jurors in any sort of trial, with the open help of partisans in the FBI, NYPD, USSS and US Marshals. I don't think the courthouse itself will come under attack, that would be too much of a failure for these agencies, but I do think the protests will be massive and possibly dangerous. It's going to be *bad*.
I've said before that America isn't ready to have this conversation, let alone actually execute a plan to keep all the players safe when there's a phenomenal chance that the security is already badly compromised. It's like the worst mob boss trial in the world, and any of the cops could be on the mob's payroll.
There's also a very good chance that Trump openly calls for violence in NYC, and that people will answer that call. Maybe a few, but maybe hundreds, thousands, or more.
We're in the no turning back part of this historically infamous chapter in US history.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Last Call For Ron's Gone Wrong, Con't

As Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis's authoritarian, draconian, and unconstitutional Stop WOKE Act winds through the courts, the 11th Circuit refused to stay an injunction against the law for Florida's colleges and universities, leaving enforcement of the law on campuses blocked as it awaits an appellate ruling.
A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that a temporary block on a portion of a law pushed by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis restricting what can be taught in Florida’s public colleges and universities will remain in place.

The three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from the DeSantis administration and officials with the state university system to stay an injunction from US District Judge Mark Walker, who called the law “positively dystopian” in a 138-page order, while the case plays out.

Last April, DeSantis signed into law Florida’s Individual Freedom Act, better known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” but it has faced a number of legal challenges since taking effect on July 1. The law is a key component of DeSantis’ war on “woke ideology,” and was intended to prevent teachings or mandatory workplace activities that suggest a person is privileged or oppressed based necessarily on their race, color, sex or national origin.

With the law, Walker wrote in November that Florida “lays the cornerstone of its own Ministry of Truth under the guise of the Individual Freedom Act” – invoking George Orwell’s novel, “1984.”

“The Court did not rule on the merits of our appeal. The appeal is ongoing, and we remain confident that the law is constitutional,” DeSantis’ spokesman Bryan Griffin said in a statement.

The Legal Defense Fund, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, celebrated the decision.

“Institutions of higher education in Florida should have the ability to provide a quality education, which simply cannot happen when students and educators, including Black students and educators, feel they cannot speak freely about their lived experiences, or when they feel that they may incur a politician’s wrath for engaging in a fact-based discussion of our history,” Alexsis Johnson, assistant counsel of The Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. 
Opponents of the law are fighting it on three fronts: the law’s effects on K-12, higher education and employers.
Again, the endgame DeSantis and the GOP sees here is a broad Supreme Court ruling that would eliminate much of the Civil Rights Act as unconstitutional and discriminatory against whites, eliminating protected classes and much of the equality, accessibility, and racial protections in the federal government and reverting tens of millions back to second-class citizen status.

Everything DeSantis is doing is in service to eliminating federal civil rights protections over "closely held individual religious beliefs".

The World Goes Viral, Con't

 So after weeks of "COVID PROVEN ESCAPED CHINESE LAB WEAPON" and "NATURAL EVOLUTION THEORY OF COVID DEBUNKED" and "WHEN DO THE COVID LIARS PAY FOR THEIR CRIMES" we find out that of course, there's overwhelming evidence that the virus jumped from animals to humans.


This week, an international team of virologists, genomicists, and evolutionary biologists may have finally found crucial data to help fill that knowledge gap. A new analysis of genetic sequences collected from the market shows that raccoon dogs being illegally sold at the venue could have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019. It’s some of the strongest support yet, experts told me, that the pandemic began when SARS-CoV-2 hopped from animals into humans, rather than in an accident among scientists experimenting with viruses.

“This really strengthens the case for a natural origin,” says Seema Lakdawala, a virologist at Emory University who wasn’t involved in the research. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist involved in the research, told me, “This is a really strong indication that animals at the market were infected. There’s really no other explanation that makes any sense.”

The findings won’t fully convince the entrenched voices on either side of the origins debate. But the new analysis may offer some of the clearest and most compelling evidence that the world will ever get in support of an animal origin for the virus that, in just over three years, has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide.

The genetic sequences were pulled out of swabs taken in and near market stalls around the pandemic’s start. They represent the first bits of raw data that researchers outside of China’s academic institutions and their direct collaborators have had access to. Late last week, the data were quietly posted by researchers affiliated with the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on an open-access genomic database called GISAID. By almost pure happenstance, scientists in Europe, North America, and Australia spotted the sequences, downloaded them, and began an analysis.

The samples were already known to be positive for the coronavirus, and had been scrutinized before by the same group of Chinese researchers who uploaded the data to GISAID. But that prior analysis, released as a preprint publication in February 2022, asserted that “no animal host of SARS-CoV-2 can be deduced.” Any motes of coronavirus at the market, the study suggested, had most likely been chauffeured in by infected humans, rather than wild creatures for sale.

The new analysis, led by Kristian Andersen, Edward Holmes, and Michael Worobey—three prominent researchers who have been looking into the virus’s roots—shows that that may not be the case. Within about half a day of downloading the data from GISAID, the trio and their collaborators discovered that several market samples that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were also coming back chock-full of animal genetic material—much of which was a match for the common raccoon dog, a small animal related to foxes that has a raccoon-like face
. Because of how the samples were gathered, and because viruses can’t persist by themselves in the environment, the scientists think that their findings could indicate the presence of a coronavirus-infected raccoon dog in the spots where the swabs were taken. Unlike many of the other points of discussion that have been volleyed about in the origins debate, the genetic data are “tangible,” Alex Crits-Christoph, a computational biologist and one of the scientists who worked on the new analysis, told me. “And this is the species that everyone has been talking about.”

Finding the genetic material of virus and mammal so closely co-mingled—enough to be extracted out of a single swab—isn’t perfect proof, Lakdawala told me. “It’s an important step; I’m not going to diminish that,” she said. Still, the evidence falls short of, say, isolating SARS-CoV-2 from a free-ranging raccoon dog or, even better, uncovering a viral sample swabbed from a mammal for sale at Huanan from the time of the outbreak’s onset. That would be the virological equivalent of catching a culprit red-handed. But “you can never go back in time and capture those animals,” says Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. And to researchers’ knowledge, “raccoon dogs were not tested at the market and had likely been removed prior to the authorities coming in,” Andersen wrote to me in an email. He underscored that the findings, although an important addition, are not “direct evidence of infected raccoon dogs at the market.”

Still, the findings don’t stand alone. “Do I believe there were infected animals at the market? Yes, I do,” Andersen told me. “Does this new data add to that evidence base? Yes.” The new analysis builds on extensive previous research that points to the market as the source of the earliest major outbreak of SARS-CoV-2: Many of the earliest known COVID-19 cases of the pandemic were clustered roughly in the market’s vicinity
. And the virus’s genetic material was found in many samples swabbed from carts and animal-processing equipment at the venue, as well as parts of nearby infrastructure, such as storehouses, sewage wells, and water drains. Raccoon dogs, creatures commonly bred for sale in China, are also already known to be one of many mammal species that can easily catch and spread the coronavirus. All of this left one main hole in the puzzle to fill: clear-cut evidence that raccoon dogs and the virus were in the exact same spot at the market, close enough that the creatures might have been infected and, possibly, infectious. That’s what the new analysis provides. Think of it as finding the DNA of an investigation’s main suspect at the scene of the crime.


But, much like any science over the last century, Republicans, hacks and grifters won't believe it. And the virus will keep killing thousands per week here in the US.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

 The one thing NY Times political reporter Maggie Haberman is good for is letting the world know exactly what Donald Trump is trying to do. Whether or not this has any bearing on reality, well, Haberman doesn't seem to be able to differentiate. Her latest bolus of Trumpian bullshit details how Tang the Conqueror plans to "deal with" any possible charges coming out of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg's office.

With an indictment looming from the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, Mr. Trump’s campaign is laying the groundwork for a broad attack on Mr. Bragg, a Democrat. According to two of Mr. Trump’s political allies, the campaign will aim to portray any charges as part of a coordinated offensive by the Democratic Party against Mr. Trump, who is trying to become only the second former president to win a new term after leaving office.

It is unclear what data points, if any, the Trump team plans to point to beyond Mr. Bragg’s party registration in order to make a case that the district attorney is part of a broader political conspiracy against the former president. It is also uncertain whether Mr. Trump will add lawyers to his legal defense team or bring on a communications adviser to play a more traditional role of responding to what will be a crush of media questions related to a potential indictment.

Mr. Trump’s two allies said his campaign was adding staff members, particularly to focus on pushing out their message and their attacks on the prosecutors. In addition, the campaign has been putting together a database listing everyone — members of Congress, legal experts, media figures — who have cast doubts on the strength of the district attorney’s case, the allies said.

Specifically, his campaign team plans on trying to connect Mr. Bragg’s investigation into Mr. Trump to President Biden, who is expected to seek re-election. The Justice Department has spent months investigating Mr. Trump in separate inquiries into his possession of hundreds of classified documents at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, and his efforts to remain in power after losing the 2020 election.

Those efforts led to the most visible moment when Mr. Trump focused the anger of his supporters on the institutions of government, the lead-up to the violent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Underscoring the degree to which Mr. Trump’s campaign is again relying on outrage from his supporters, a campaign official maintained that the nation would not “tolerate” the prosecution and would see it as an effort to influence the 2024 election.

“President Donald J. Trump is completely innocent, he did nothing wrong, and even the biggest, most radical left Democrats are making that clear,” said Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman. He listed a series of other investigations that Mr. Trump has faced and referred to the Manhattan case as “the nuclear button,” calling it a “political donation” by Mr. Bragg “to Joe Biden.” And the Trump team plans to highlight a donation to a political action committee made by the philanthropist George Soros, a subject of frequent right-wing attacks, that was intended to help Mr. Bragg.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Mr. Trump’s allies say that tying Mr. Biden to what is taking place in Manhattan will be a key aspect of the campaign’s response. And the degree to which the Trump team plans to make a history-making indictment of a former president a central campaign message is likely to set a new political precedent.

“A Trump indictment will immediately be added to his campaign platform and talking points, another first in presidential politics,” said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist who has observed Mr. Trump and presidential campaigns for decades.

While he was in office, Mr. Trump was shielded by a Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president.

Already, Mr. Trump has spent the better part of two years attacking Mr. Bragg, who is Black, as “racist” and as continuing efforts to harm him, after two impeachment inquiries and a two-year special counsel investigation into whether he obstructed justice and whether his 2016 campaign conspired with Russians.

But since declaring his third presidential campaign in November, Mr. Trump has made attacking the investigators an increasingly intense focus.

Other political allies of Mr. Trump made clear that there would be efforts to highlight how his Republican rivals handle the news of any indictment, and whether they endorse it or defend him. Mr. Trump’s allies said his advisers believed the issue could tie some of his opponents in knots, particularly his closest prospective opponent in public polls, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
I know, it's shocking that Trump would resort to outright racism against a Black DA, more vicious conspiracy theory lies, your bog-standard GOP victimization complex, and tribalization to force other Republicans to go after Bragg for him in order to try to foul the waters. That Trump is selecting Haberman to reveal this "secret" plan to says a lot more about her than Trump.

I hope that reporters ask other Republicans if they agree with Trump's racism twaddle when Bragg lowers the boom.

Probably not, but we'll see.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Last Call For The Revenge Of 2008, Con't

Add First Republic Bank to the growing list of financial institutions getting bailed out as the contamination for the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank spreads.
A group of financial institutions has agreed to deposit $30 billion in First Republic Bank in what’s meant to be a sign of confidence in the banking system, the banks announced Thursday afternoon.

Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase will contribute about $5 billion apiece, while Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley will deposit around $2.5 billion, the banks said in a news release. Truist, PNC, U.S. Bancorp, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon will deposit about $1 billion each.

“This action by America’s largest banks reflects their confidence in First Republic and in banks of all sizes, and it demonstrates their overall commitment to helping banks serve their customers and communities,” the group said in a statement.

The deposits would be obligated to stay at First Republic for at least 120 days, sources told CNBC’s David Faber. Regional bank stocks initially fell on Thursday but reversed higher after reports from Faber and others about the development of the deposit plan.

The news comes after First Republic’s stock has been pummeled in recent days, sparked by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank last Friday and Signature Bank over the weekend. Both of those banks had a high number of uninsured deposits, as did First Republic, leading to concern that customers would pull their money out. The new deposits from the major banks are uninsured.

First Republic’s stock, which closed at $115 per share on March 8, traded below $20 at one point Thursday. The stock was halted repeatedly during the session and rose to $40 per share at one point, up more than 20% on the day.
These banks are saving First Republic for their own good, they are a competitor. They're not even doing it to save their own skin to try to halt the chaos. No, they're doing it because the Biden administration gave them something in return, and that's going to be the White House dropping their insistence on stopping "junk fees" on US bank account holders. 

I guarantee you that the Junk Fee Prevention Act is now going to die a quiet death in the weeks ahead.


Ron's Gone Wrong, Historical Revisionism Edition

We've already had the fight in Florida over math textbooks containing "Critical Race Theory", but that was the undercard. The main event is Florida approving social studies texbooks for next fall, and that fight will go to the heart of American history and Black history as a part of it...or not a part at all.
In the last few months, as part of the review process, a small army of state experts, teachers, parents and political activists have combed thousands of pages of text — not only evaluating academic content, but also flagging anything that could hint, for instance, at critical race theory.

A prominent conservative education group, whose members volunteered to review textbooks, objected to a slew of them, accusing publishers of “promoting their bias.” At least two publishers declined to participate altogether.

And in a sign of how fraught the political landscape has become, one publisher created multiple versions of its social studies material, softening or eliminating references to race — even in the story of Rosa Parks — as it sought to gain approval in Florida.

“Normally, a state adoption is a pretty boring process that a few of us care about, but there are a lot of people watching this because the stakes are so high,” said Jeff Livingston, a former publishing executive who is now an education consultant.

It is unclear which social studies textbooks will be approved in Florida, or how the chosen materials might address issues of race in history. The state is expected to announce its textbook decisions in the coming weeks.

The Florida Department of Education, which mandates the teaching of Black history, emphasized that the requirements were recently expanded, including to ensure students understood “the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping on individual freedoms.”

But Mr. DeSantis, a top Republican 2024 presidential prospect, also signed a law last year known as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which prohibits instruction that would compel students to feel responsibility, guilt or anguish for what other members of their race did in the past, among other limits.

The state’s guidelines for evaluating textbooks targets “critical race theory,” a graduate-level academic theory that rarely appears in younger grades but has become a catchall to some conservatives; and “social emotional learning,” an approach that tries to help students develop positive mind-sets and that is viewed by the DeSantis administration as extraneous to core academics.

Florida — along with California and Texas — is a major market for school textbook publishing, a $4.8 billion industry.

It is among more than a dozen states that approve textbooks, rather than leaving decisions only to local school districts. Every few years, Florida reviews textbooks for a particular subject and puts out a list that districts can choose from. (Districts also have some discretion to choose their own materials.)

Because state approval can be lucrative, publishers have often quietly catered to the biggest markets, adjusting content for their local needs and political leanings.
So we have actual American history, and the sanitized, "race-friendly" version of American history, protecting students from history that might make them ask questions about the past, present, and future of America. 

We can't have that in Florida. We're raising good little kids who toe the line and don't ask questions at all.

Only the state-approved Black history matters here.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Florida students.

Orange Meltdown, Peaches And Dreams Edition

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports from the special grand jury investigating Donald Trump and his slate of alternate electors in Georgia, interviewing five of the jurors on the eight-month investigation where security was not just the major goal, it was the only one.
The bomb-sniffing dog was new. The special grand jurors investigating interference in Georgia’s 2020 elections hadn’t before seen that level of security on the third floor of the Fulton County courthouse where they had been meeting in secret for nearly eight months.

Oh, God, I hope it doesn’t find anything, one juror recalled thinking as the German Shepherd inspected the room. “It was unexpected. We were not warned of that,” she said.

The reason for the heightened surveillance was the day’s star witness: Michael Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser. An election denier who suggested martial law should be imposed to seize voting machines in Georgia and other swing states where Trump lost, Flynn had only agreed to appear after being compelled to by two courts in his home state of Florida.

Fulton law enforcement was taking no chances on that unseasonably warm December day, concerned about who might turn up to protect Flynn, a prominent figure among far-right, conspiracy theorist and Christian nationalist groups. Outside, on the courthouse steps, sheriffs’ deputies and marshals carrying automatic weapons kept watch.

No bomb was found. Flynn, who was ultimately the last witness jurors heard testimony from, went on to assert his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer many of prosecutors’ questions.

But the experience brought home to some jurors just how important and consequential their work could be.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, five of the 23 special grand jurors recounted what it was like to be a pivotal — but anonymous — part of one of the most momentous criminal investigations in U.S. history; one which could lead to indictments of former President Donald Trump and his allies.

“One of the most important things we’ll be a part of in our life was this eight month process that we did,” one juror told the AJC. It was “incredibly important to get it right.”

Over two hours, in a windowless conference room, the jurors shared never-before-heard details about their experiences serving on the panel, which met in private, often three times a week.

They described a process that was by turns fascinating, tedious and emotionally wrenching. One juror said she would cry in her car at the end of the day after hearing from witnesses whose lives had been upended by disinformation and claims of election fraud.

For months, they were unable to talk to friends, family members and co-workers about what they were doing. They said the overall panel was diverse, with different races, economic backgrounds and political viewpoints represented.

Many emerged with heightened respect for election workers and others who kept the state’s voting integrity intact.
Now let's remember that Georgia Republicans in the state legislature are scrambling to pass legislation that would allow lawmakers to dismiss DA Fani Willis and scrap this investigation entirely, and you see just what level of corruption Republicans are neck-deep in here in the Peach State. 

Oh, and Fani Willis's office apparently has yet another phone call recording of Trump pushing Georgia's House Speaker for a special session to overturn the election there.

The recording adds to what’s known about the pressure campaign by Trump and his allies on Georgia officials. It’s the third audio recording of the former president’s phone calls to Georgia officials that is known to exist.

The special grand jury recently concluded its work and recommended multiple indictments, according to the foreperson who has spoken out publicly. Now it’s up to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to make charging decisions.

Ralston, who died last year, described his December 2020 call with Trump during an interview the following day.

Trump “would like a special session of the Georgia General Assembly,” Ralston said. “He’s been clear on that before, and he was clear on that in the phone conversation yesterday. You know I shared with him my belief that based on the understanding I have of Georgia law that it was going to be very much an uphill battle.”

According to the Georgia Constitution, not only can the governor convene a special session, the General Assembly can call itself into a special session, though that requires the signatures of 3/5 of the Georgia House.

Former US Sen. David Perdue, a staunch Trump ally from Georgia, also requested a special session be convened during a meeting in December 2020 at Truist Park, where the Atlanta Braves play. Gov. Brian Kemp, Perdue and former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the state’s other US senator at the time, and their aides attended.
We may really see Trump indicted later this year.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Last Call For The Road To Gilead, Con't

Wednesday's hearing by Texas federal judge Andrew Kacsmaryk made it very clear he will attempt to overturn the FDA and two decades of medicine in order to end medical abortion for everyone, and the Biden administration has a momentous decision to make, as Rolling Stone's Tessa Stuart reports.

Under federal law, anyone can challenge FDA approval of a drug within the first six years — a window has long since closed for mifepristone, which the FDA approved in 2000. According to the Washington Post, when asked on Wednesday if there was precedent for a court intervening in an approval so many years after a drug had been on the market, a lawyer arguing on behalf of the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine admitted there was none.

But Kacsmaryk nonetheless appeared poised to rule in the anti-abortion groups’ favor on Wednesday. If that happens, lawyers for the Biden Administration will seek a stay from the Fifth Circuit — one of the most conservative courts in the country — and if they can’t find relief there, they will appeal to the Supreme Court. It’s unclear how long that might take and whether mifepristone would be available in the meantime.

If Kacsmaryk orders the FDA to withdraw approval of the drug, Sen. Ron Wyden has called on the Biden Administration to ignore the order and maintain public access to the medication. (It’s not an idea without precedent, according to a Harvard Law Review article that examined federal agency compliance with court orders, and judges like Kacsmaryk have relatively few options to force an agency, like FDA, to comply with their orders if an agency chooses not to.)

Wyden’s position is simple: “The power of the judiciary begins and ends with its legitimacy in the eyes of the public,” he said last month. “A judge’s rulings stand because elected leaders and citizens have agreed that abiding by them is right and necessary to uphold the rule of law… But the judiciary must uphold its end of the social contract too. It must follow the rule of law and earn the confidence of the American people continually, every day, every month, every year.”

By “hot-wiring the system in order to produce an anti-abortion ruling,” Wyden says, Kacsmaryk is violating that contract and delegitimizing the court itself.
(The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Wyden’s suggestion.) 

I don't know if the White House would go that far, because there is good news:

Health care providers, meanwhile, are making plans to continue offering abortions using misoprostol, the second pill in abortion pill regimen, alone. (Misoprostol, which is also used to treat ulcers, is available without the restrictions to which mifepristone is subject.)

Melissa Grant is the chief operations officer at Carafem, an organization that offers reproductive health care, including abortion care, online and in-person. “Carafem has provided thousands of doses of misoprostol-only as an option to our clients since the year 2020,” she tells Rolling Stone. “We did so because we recognized that the Trump administration was poised to remove the ability to mail mifepristone in 2021.”

What Carafem has found in the data it has collected over that period is that misoprostol-only abortions are extremely effective — 95 percent, compared to 99 percent effectiveness when taken together with mifepristone. Doses can be administered orally or vaginally, largely as a matter of personal preference, Grant says. (While taking the medication orally is slightly less effective, she says, but individuals in areas where abortion is illegal may choose that route out of abundance of caution since “fragments of tablets may be maybe seen on a pelvic exam and your vagina.”)
The bad news is that if Judge Kacsmaryk's decision is as odious as I think it will be, and that decision could come at any time now, that it will serve as a new bogus legal precedent to ban misoprostol as well.  We'll see what happens as this winds through the courts, but the fact is Republican fascists won't stop with just ending one abortion medication.

Totally Up For Grabs

A new survey finds that as America heads into 2024, non-affiliated and Independent Latinos are rapidly becoming the country's largest swing voter group, making up as much as 20% of all voters in states like California and Florida.

First-time Latino voters are outpacing first-time non-Latino voters in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New York, and Texas, according to a report first obtained by Axios.

The big picture: Nonpartisan and unaffiliated Latino voters are on the verge of becoming one of the biggest swing voter groups in the U.S. — raising the stakes for early and regular engagement from both parties.The 2022 election showed the GOP making significant gains among Latinos in Florida but falling well below expectations in Texas, as predicted.

Details: The percentage of early Latino voters between ages 18 and 34 jumped in Arizona, Nevada, New York, and Texas, according to a TelevisaUnivision/L2 analysis reviewed by Axios.Unaffiliated Latino voters now represent the largest percentage of Latino voters in Florida.
Nonpartisan Hispanic registered voters represent a larger percentage than non-partisan non-Hispanic voters in states like Arizona and Nevada.

State of play: The number of Latinos, which includes people of any race, was 62.1 million in 2020 — a growth of 23% in a decade, according to the U.S. Census.Exit polls for U.S. House races in 2022 showed 60% of Latinos backed Democrats while 39% voted for Republicans.
John F. Kennedy won as much as 90% of the Latino vote in 1960, and Jimmy Carter took 82% in 1976.

Between the lines: Latino voting behavior is much more unpredictable and depends on the political dynamics of their local regions, L2 executive vice president Paul Westcott told Axios.California Latinos tend to lean more Democratic and Florida Hispanics more Republican, but that could change, Westcott said.
"This shows that candidates need to get their messages out early and need to go after younger Latino voters," Michele Day, TelevisaUnivision's senior vice president for its Political, Advocacy & Government Group, told Axios.

What's next: Westcott said the 2024 presidential election will likely see record Latino voter turnout and could offer more surprises if parties don't engage
Whichever parties get the Latino vote in 2024 determine the presidency. Democrats are doing a better job of this, but Republicans already have machinery in Florida and Texas and are moving to pick up more House seats in New York, Arizona, Nevada, Illinois, and California. 

Latino voters don't trust either party at this point. We'll see if Dems can start winning them over.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

The Guardian's Hugo Lowell has been on the Trump crime beat for the UK for a while now, and his latest piece finds that Trump's media company and his failed social media platform are facing possible money laundering charges from the Feds, complete with ties to Russian mobsters.
Federal prosecutors in New York involved in the criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s social media company last year started examining whether it violated money laundering statutes in connection with the acceptance of $8m with suspected Russian ties, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The company – Trump Media, which owns Trump’s Truth Social platform – initially came under criminal investigation over its preparations for a potential merger with a blank check company called Digital World (DWAC) that was also the subject of an earlier probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Towards the end of last year, federal prosecutors started examining two loans totaling $8m wired to Trump Media, through the Caribbean, from two obscure entities that both appear to be controlled in part by the relation of an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the sources said.

The expanded nature of the criminal investigation, which has not been previously reported, threatens to delay the completion of the merger between Trump Media and DWAC, which would provide the company and Truth Social with up to $1.3bn in capital, in addition to a stock market listing.

Even if Trump Media and its officers face no criminal exposure for the transactions, the optics of borrowing money from potentially unsavory sources through opaque conduits could cloud Trump’s image as he seeks to recapture the White House in 2024.

The extent of the exposure for Trump Media and its officers for money laundering remains unclear. The statutes broadly require prosecutors to show that defendants knew the money was the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity and the transaction was designed to conceal its source.

But money laundering prosecutions are typically based on circumstantial evidence and can be based on materials that show that the money in question was unlikely to have legitimate origins, legal experts said.

The first $2m payment to Trump Media came in December 2021 when the company was on the brink of collapse after the planned merger with DWAC – that would have unlocked millions for the company – was delayed when the SEC opened an inquiry into whether the arrangement broke regulatory rules.

Trump Media needed a bridge loan to keep the company afloat. But it struggled to get financing until DWAC’s chief executive Patrick Orlando sourced a $2m loan wired from Paxum Bank registered in Dominica, according to the wire transfer receipt reviewed by the Guardian.

The wire transfer identified Paxum Bank as the beneficial owner, although the promissory note identified an entity called ES Family Trust as the lender. Two months later, an unexpected second $6m payment arrived in Trump Media’s account from ES Family Trust, the transfer receipt showed.

In both instances, Orlando declined to provide details about the true identity of the lenders or the origin of the money to Trump Media executives, Trump Media’s since-ousted co-founder turned whistleblower Will Wilkerson recounted in an interview.

Though the two payments to Trump Media ostensibly came from two separate entities – first Paxum Bank and second ES Family Trust – the trustee of ES Family Trust, a person called Angel Pacheco, appears to have simultaneously been a director of Paxum Bank.

The Russian connection, as being examined by prosecutors in the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York, centers on a part-owner of Paxum Bank – an individual named Anton Postolnikov, who appears to be a relation of Putin ally Aleksandr Smirnov

So roughly $8 billion in Putin money to try to keep Truth Social afloat. Yeah, it's worth a look from the Feds.

In other words, this is the domain of US Attorney for SDNY, Damian Williams. It means Trump is now facing a possible fifth investigation into criminal activity, on top of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg's payoff case to Stormy Daniels, Fulton County, Georgia DA Fani Willis's election fraud case, NY Attorney General Tish James's civil tax fraud case, and Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigations into Trump's documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago.

In other words, it's a bad, bad time to be Trump.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Last Call For Ridin' With Biden, Con't

President Biden rolled out new gun safety regulations at the site of January's deadly Monterey Park shooting, signing a new executive order for tougher gun purchase background checks.

The executive order would direct Attorney General Merrick Garland to clarify the statutory definition of who is "engaged in the business" of selling firearms, an authority the administration official said was detailed in sweeping bipartisan gun legislation Biden signed into law last year after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

"This news would mean fewer guns will be sold without background checks, and therefore fewer guns will end up in the hands of felons and domestic abusers," the official said on a call with reporters previewing the order.

The National Instant Background Check System carried out more than 31 million background checks on people looking to own firearms or explosives last year, FBI data shows.

The administration official said it is not clear how many new background checks the executive order would result in.

The order also urges members of Biden's Cabinet to promote effective use of extreme risk protection orders, or "red flag" laws, in 19 states and Washington, D.C., by partnering with law enforcement agencies, health care providers and educators.

Through the order, Biden will also encourage the Federal Trade Commission to compile a report examining how gun manufacturers market firearms, including to minors.
By defining who counts as a gun seller, more people will need to make background checks. It would also clarify red flag laws and focus on gun marketing.
These are all solid moves under recently passed regulations. The usual "Congress never gave the Executive this authority" BS won't work, because Congress did exactly that last year.

Biden is using the power he's been given.
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